Tuesday, February 12, 2019
February 12, 2019: Movies I Love: Glory
[For this year’s Valentine’s series, I wanted to highlight and contextualize some of the movies I most love. Leading up to a weekend Guest Post from one of our most impressive scholarly FilmStudiers!]
On three of the many moving, challenging, vital moments in Glory (1989).
1) Merry Christmas: Perhaps the most thankless role in Glory is that played by the great Andre Braugher. Braugher’s Thomas Searles is a somewhat stereotypical Northern, free African American, far different from most of the men in the 54th Massachusetts, a bookish reader of Emerson and the Transcendentalists who has to learn how to become both a soldier and a member of this new community. It will surprise exactly no one who has ever seen Braugher work to know that he turns that potential cliché into an incredible character, and in so doing creates some of the most beautiful and important moments in the film. None more so than his quick, quiet Christmas Eve exchange with Matthew Broderick’s Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, a brief moment when the two men can go back to being lifelong friends despite all the histories (and hierarchies) in which they have become entangled. Just the music alone is enough to make me tear up.
2) Ain’t Nobody Clean: I quoted part of Denzel Washington’s Tripp’s memorable dialogue from his one conversation with Broderick’s Shaw in this post; in full, that part of their exchange goes, “It stinks, I suppose.” “Yeah, it stinks bad. And we all covered up in it, too. Ain’t nobody clean. … Be nice to get clean, though.” The moment and conversation are vital for the arc of both of these characters in the film, and directly contributes to their final, tragic but inspiring shared fates. But it’s also a bracing and crucial examination of American racial and social realities, not only in the Civil War era but in our own as well. When Bruce sings, “41 shots and my boots caked in this mud/We’re baptized in these waters and in each other’s blood” in the final verse of “American Skin (41 Shots),” he’s making a very similar point to Tripp’s, reminding us of the darkest yet most defining and potentially liberating truths that unite us.
3) We Men, Ain’t We: Denzel also gets the film’s single best speech, his remarks at the regiment’s pre-battle campfire scene. The whole sequence is at that hyperlink, and you won’t spend a more powerful five minutes today, I assure you. But Denzel’s remarks, which began about the 2:30 mark of that clip and conclude the sequence, are truly a feat of acting and artistic magic: on the page, they would seem to be simple and even clichéd (“Y’all the onliest family I got … I love the 54th”), but on screen Denzel turns them into a series of stunning revelations, first for himself and then for his audiences (on screen and off), that capture the essence of the film, the story of the 54th, the ideals of race and community and nation toward which they gesture. Never more so than in the speech’s final lines: “Don’t much matter what happens tomorrow, ‘cause we men, ain’t we? … We men, ain’t we.” I could highlight dozens more moving and inspiring moments from this amazing film, but this is one I always come back to.
Next movie tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Beloved movies you’d highlight?